With calving time underway, Gavin Hill of SRUC considers what can be implemented to maximise the survival rate of new born calves.
Calf losses can be significant not just at calving but in the first three weeks of life. The better conditions are for young calves at calving, the better survival rates will be.
SRUC’s Gavin Hill, says: “With recent poor weather we face many challenges such as damp, wet conditions along with shortages of bedding material both of which will reduce environmental hygiene and increase the risk of calf scour.
“On most farms deaths represent only a small proportion of the total cost of a scour outbreak. The biggest costs are treatment and reduced lifetime performance as calves which recover from scour attack are more susceptible to other diseases such as pneumonia.”
What do farms with excellent rearing rates do to make a difference? Mr Hill says they maximise prevention rather than relying on treatment to provide a cure.
- Maintaining good dry calving areas so reducing risk of infections when the calf is born from wet dirty bedding. Straw may be relatively expensive but it is still cost effective when compared to calf losses. Woodfines can also be considered but can increase risk of navel infections.
- Vaccination for rotavirus, coronavirus and E.coli should be routine in late pregnancy to increase colostral antibodies to these common scour agents.
- Ensuring sufficient colostrum early on in the first two to three hours is critical to ensure protection against scour and septicaemia. Overall, calves need to consume 10 per cent of their body weight of colostrum in the first 12 hours. For a 45kg calf this will equate to 4.5 litres total. The ones to watch are calves which have had a prolonged or difficult birth as, firstly, they are less likely to suck and when they do they will not absorb colostral antibodies as well.
- Routine practice by many is to treat the newborn calf’s navel twice within 12 hours.
- Those who have had previous issues or wish to prevent Cryptosporidiosis may treat all calves born with specific drench for the first few days of life. Risk and preventative strategies need to be discussed with your vet. It is one of the most common causes of calf scour in the UK. It is caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium and is usually seen in young calves less than three weeks old. Symptoms include diarrhoea, dehydration, loss of appetite, fever and abdominal pain
- Both the calving areas and calved cow sheds are cleaned out, power washed and disinfected on a weekly to fortnight basis using products developed to be effective against bacteria and viruses with cryptosporidiosis often being the main target. Many farms say this makes a significant impact on calf survival.
- If calving cows are held indoors due to bad weather, then consider moving the late calving cows into a fresh bedded shed away from the existing calved group as infection challenge levels will have built up to high levels in the main calving group/shed.
It is wise to prepare for a delayed turnout so calculating feed and bedding supplies is best done well in advance.
Mr Hill says: “In many farms forage supplies will be limited. Get your forage analysed so alterations can be made to diets which may help stretch out the supply.
"Milk needs to be kept on the calved cows and so if the forage is low in protein it will have a knock on effect to the cow in its milk supply. Additional concentrates and protein feeds will maximise the cows milking ability and often they can replace some forage so helping future supplies.
"When cows are put to grass it can take time for them to adapt to changes in diet/nutrition moving from silage to spring grass. This change has an impact on them cycling and therefore being ready for the bull when out at grass.
"The breeding bulls are often put to the cows not long after being put out to grass. Over the last few years many have seen calving being delayed due to delays in conception resulting from this late turnout."
An extended calving period is not ideal. Some farms have a strategy in place where the cows which have calved to the first turn are synchronised and artificially inseminated (AI) when still housed.
“This results in many of these cows already in-calf when turned out and so maximising fertility rates and calving period," says Mr Hill.
"With using AI they can choose highly rated maternal bulls which can provide future replacements for the herds.”